'Corporations are People, Too'

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, September 8, 2015

Four years ago in front of what the Washington Post reported as a testy crowd at the Iowa State Fair, Mitt Romney responded to a call for increasing corporate taxes with the claim that “corporations are people, too, my friend.” One of several tough exchanges for the Republican candidate over the course of his campaign, but one that, in spite of this “low light” moment, may hold a hidden truth that could help improve the execution of campaigns in the coming 2016 cycle.

One of the challenges for both television and digital in the 2016 cycle will be solving the problem of unique voter reach. 

TV spend is projected by Borrell Associates to reach nearly $7 billion, or 61% of all media spending by campaigns in 2016. An estimated 126 million votes were cast in the 2012 election and according to Nielsen, 87% of the population watches television and 56% have cable. However, primetime network news programs viewership hovers at only 15 million daily viewers. On cable, Fox News tops all news programming with 1.7 million daily viewers, with CNN, MSNBC and Al Jazeera adding an additional 800,000. 

Cobbling together voter reach on television has always been expensive, but it also is remarkably limited. Regional TV buys skew to older viewers and are often the same audience day after day. When combined with the more partisan cable news viewers on Fox and MNBC, television spend is likely reaching a subset of the predictable voters and true believers rather than the breadth of undecided voters required to win. 

Digital became the “bright shiny object” that campaigns pursued in earnest starting in 2008. Now a necessity for every campaign, digital represents a small minority of spending. Borrell is forecasting digital at $1 billion in 2016, only 9.5% of an overall 2016 political budget forecasted at $11.4 billion.

One reason that digital has not taken off in political campaigns is that it doesn’t have the built-in justification of Gross-Rating-Points metrics that make the media consultants comfortable. Digital also has limits when it comes to reach when you look closely. Audience-based targeting allows campaigns to map home addresses to voter cookies based on historical registration, contributions and issue preferences. However, due to browser blocking and lack of third-party cookie support on mobile devices, the on-boarding of voter lists typically results in a 25% to 30% match rate.

Social platforms have been a force for loyalist engagement and to Get Out the Vote through Facebook and Twitter, but, according to Pew Research, while social platforms are used by 71% of adults, that figure drops to 38% for those who use social to engage in the political conversations and less than 20% use social to follow candidates.

Candidates for the latest “bright-shiny objects” for the 2016 cycle include cross-device mobile, programmatic television, IP targeting and one that isn’t often talked about — business targeting. 

Tracking mobile users at home and on the go promises to be a hot button for this cycle because these devices are now the primary way voters access their social platforms, video and news. The challenge will be in technical execution at scale. Programmatic television platforms are on the rise with Direct TV, Amazon, Netflix and others. Reach is still very limited but the targeting is superior to broadcast or cable. 

IP targeting offers a unique benefit to campaigns offering better voter reach and precision across devices and locations. Simply focusing messaging to the precise congressional and state legislative districts is a major gain.

Targeting registered voters at home has been a mainstay of digital campaigns and audience targeting because up until now, that was the only way we knew how to reach these voters. This means that campaigns were largely restricted to weekends and six- to eight-hour evening cycles. That could change. 

For the 2016 cycle, it is now possible to move beyond the corporation and LLCs to the people that actually make up those organizations. With wifi, cross-device and business owner-at-home targeting, there is opportunity to reach out to small business owners, professional practitioners, and key operators at scale with a pointed messages that directly relates to their concerns. 

Unlike 2012, when the candidate had no ability to justify a claim of corporate personhood, the 2016 candidates would now have the ability to reach business owners and operators at work and at home to communicate their position on the economic issues of business taxes, health care, and the other issues that impact job creators and their employees.

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